It’s pretty hard to describe the highly conceptual work of German sound artist and composer Christina Kubisch —part of its allure is the air of mystery that surrounds it. But one thing she’s long demonstrated is her deep interest in the everyday sounds around us, the ones we usually take for granted. A recording like Twelve Signals (Semishigure, 2003), which chronicles 52 minutes in the life of a sound installation she put up in a Berlin church back in 1999, manages to stand on its own, in a minimalist sort of way, though it obviously pales when compared to the actual installation. She found a number of electrical bells from the end of the 19th century that were used in a mine in St. Ingbert, Germany, to tell workers, through a dozen different patterns and tones, about the movements of an underground lift. The bells were no longer functional, so she sampled them being struck with small hammers and installed speakers in front of each bell, which played the various patterns. They then played all 12 signals once during a 52-minute span to create overlapping patterns. Even more wonderfully serendipitous is the ringing of external church bells halfway through the piece, a kind of sonorous but distant sound glow that murmurs in the distance while the much smaller, pinging electrical bells—kind of the like hallway bells you used to find in a high school—sound in the foreground.

In an earlier piece called “Mouseware” Kubisch connected a dozen computer mice to a dozen lab mice that had been preserved in glass containers filled with alcohol. Hidden speakers projected the scratchy sounds of the computer mice as they were picked up by contact mikes, kind of mimicking the rustling sounds of real mice—if they were alive.

Kubisch is in town this week for this year’s Outer Ear Festival, presented by Experimental Sound Studio; she designed a sonic walking tour of the loop dubbed “Electrical Walk: Chicago,” which runs from Wednesday, November 7, through Tuesday November 20, from 10 AM-5 PM each day. Visitors borrow specially designed headphones from the Chicago Cultural Center and follow a map charted by the artist to encounter spots rich in electromagnetic ambience—such as ATMs or certain store windows—that we normally pay no attention to. Kubisch will give a talk about the piece and her work on Wednesday at 6 PM at the Goethe-Institut Chicago.

Today’s playlist:

Various Artists, Studio One DJ’s (Soul Jazz)
Big Dee Irwin, Another Night With… (West Side)
Tommy McCook, Blazing Horns/Tenor in Roots (Blood and Fire)